From the very beginning of Star Wars in the popular culture, the usual gang at MAD Magazine has been taking potshots at our favorite galaxy far, far away.
I had the extreme pleasure of talking to the editor of MAD Magazine, John Ficarra, on the Full of Sith podcast earlier this year. We talked about a lot of things, but there were a couple of specific tidbits I wanted to share with the readers of StarWars.com.
Like everyone who stops by the Full of Sith podcast the first question we ask is about their first time seeing the film. Ficarra recalls, “I don’t know how old I was, but I remember going to the theatre because everyone was hyping it to me. And this was before movie hype hit its stride where you know about every movie opening, but word of mouth was very strong. I saw it and was like, “Wow.” But the second one is when I really became a Star Wars fan. I really loved The Empire Strikes Back, even more than the first movie. And it was the Yoda issue, with him as Alfred E. Neuman on the cover, that was on sale when I started working at MAD Magazine. I wasn’t there for it, but I like taking credit for it because it was a great selling issue.”
And since I had Ficarra on the line, I just had to ask him about the truth of the story I’d heard about Lucasfilm lawyers trying to shut down MAD’s Star Wars parodies. “That was no urban legend,” Ficarra told me. “I got a letter from Lucas’ lawyers that said we’d infringed on copyrighted figures and they were demanding that we recall all the issues and that all the plates be destroyed and that they would get all the revenue from the issue and in addition to that they wanted punitive damages. And I walked into Bill Gaines’ office (Bill was the publisher and founder of MAD) and we both laughed because a couple of weeks earlier I’d gotten a letter from Lucas himself saying how much he loved the issue. Saying that the writer, Dick DeBartolo, and Mort Drucker who did the art were like the Da Vincis of comedy. We turned it over to our lawyer who promptly sent them a copy of the Lucas letter and we’ve never heard from a Lucasfilm lawyer again.
“Lucas has always been a huge friend of MAD and a fan of MAD. We put out a book called MAD About Star Wars where we put all of our Star Wars pieces in it and George Lucas actually wrote the introduction to it. He talks in his intro about how he was always a fan of MAD growing up and he made a point that I never thought of, that he grew up in this small agricultural town and MAD was his first window into seeing that just because someone tells you this is the way it is doesn’t mean it’s the way it really is, and to question authority. And he said later on that he spent all these movies and characters that are trying to change the dominant paradigm and I never really realized the connection there. And, you know, he’s bought most of the artwork from the spoofs over the years.”
So it would be no surprise that MAD had found other, more long lasting ways to influence Star Wars. To illustrate the point, Ficarra told me a story I’d never heard before, “MAD About Star Wars was written by a former MAD intern who left and went at Lucas and then came back as an editor, Jonathan Bresman. And instead of making it just a straight reprint book, he went back to all the people at Lucasfilm and asked what it was like to be spoofed and a technical point of view. And, in fact, not many people know this, Jonathan was part of the genesis of Jar Jar Binks. When they first created Jar Jar Binks they put a rough draft costume of him on Jonathan and they had him run around the ranch being chased by a Jeep so they could get footage of what Jar Jar might look like running across the planet. There’s pictures of Jonathan in the suit and it’s an extra connection MAD has had with Star Wars over the years.
If you’d like to listen to Ficarra tell these stories, and many more, for yourself, be sure to listen to his episode of Full of Sith.